PIERRE MONTEUX IN FRANCE (1952-1958 concert performances with
the French National Orchestra)
TCHAIKOVSKY: Nutcracker Ballet Suite. Romeo and
Juliet Fantasy Overture.
WEBER: Oberon Overture. GLAZUNOV: Stenka razin, Op. 13.
HANDEL: Concerto Grosso Op. 6 No. 12. BERLIOZ: Fantastic
BRAHMS: Symphony No. 2 in D, Op. 73. BERLIOZ: Roman Carnival Overture.
FALLA: El Amor Brujo. RAPHAEL: Jabonah Ballet. TCHAIKOVSKY: Symphony
No. 5 in E minor, Op. 64.
SCHUBERT: Excerpts from Rosamunde. BERLIOZ: Three excerpts
from Romeo and Juliet. FRANCK: Symphony in D minor. SIBELIUS: Symphony
No. 2 in
D, Op. 43.
Admirers of Pierre Monteux surely will be interested in Music & Arts issue of concert performances with the French National Orchestra. John Canarina, who studied with Monteux and wrote his biography, also is author of the adulatory and informative notes in the CD booklet, pointing out that the conductor did not like working with French orchestras—and for good reason. After working with other major orchestras of the world, it must indeed have been difficult to deal with sometimes unruly players who were not always masters of their instruments. And in these live performances one often hears slips from the orchestra, although the level of enthusiasm is high. Much of the music in this collection was recorded commercially by Monteux; in all cases the commercial recordings are superior, but it's always interesting to hear live performances from a major conductor, particularly in repertory he premiered. This performance of Tchaikovsky's Symphony No. 5 cannot match the performance (and the sound) of his live 1963 Vienna performance with the London Symphony. Audio on the new M&A set is reasonably good, and Kit Higginson's transfers point out problems with original tape sources. Even though this is sold as eight disks for the price of six, the six are full-price, with each disk in a simple blank paper envelope. Considering all aspects of this release, it seems the cost is too steep for what is here.
Tahra is to be congratulated for continuing to issue recordings by lesser-known—but important—conductors. Leo Borchard (1899-1945) was born in Moscow of German parents.He studied with Hermann Scherchen and Eduard Erdmann, and conducted the first 22 concerts of the Berlin Philharmonic after the fall of the Nazi regime. During the war he was a member of the anti-nazi group called "Onkel Emil." August 23, 1945 he was shot and killed by an American patrol that had orders to fire on any suspicious car, a tragic end to a fine conductor's life. In September 1995, Claudio Abbado and the Berlin Philharmonic played Mahler's Symphony No. 6 to commemorate the 50th anniversary of Borchard's death, but otherwise the world seems to have forgotten this conductor, even though he made more than 30 disks with the BPO. His 1934 Telefunken recording of music from The Nutcracker is heard here, along with concert performances of the same composer's Romeo and Juliet and works of Weber and Glazunov. Sound quality is excellent.
Another "forgotten" conductor is Hungarian Eugen Szenkar (1891-1977). After a successful career in Budapest, Prague, Berlin and Cologne (where he conducted the premiere of Bartok's Miraculous Mandarin), he went to Moscow and then to Brazil where he formed an orchestra that performed with Erich Kleiber, William Steinberg and Charles Munch. At the invitation of Toscanini, Szenkar conducted four concerts in 1947 with the NBC Symphony. It seems Szenkar never realized the importance of recordings (he hated the process), and few of his recordings have been issued on CD (a major exception is a complete Tales of Hoffman on Preiser recorded in Cologne in 1950). Tahra's fascinating CD contains recordings from a February 20, 1950 concert with the NWDR Orchestra, offering Handel's Concerto Grosso Op. 6 No. 12, and Fantastic Symphony of Berlioz. As often was custom at the time, the conductor also plays (on a piano) the continuo part of the Handel. This performance of the Berlioz is a knock-out in every way, a dynamic reading beautifully played, and the engineering captures all of the stunning brass playing. If you enjoy Symphonie fantastique, you must hear this performance.
Tahra's Stokowski issue is of major importance. The complete concert from Hamburg July 7, 1952 is heard. and is worth having just for the stunning, incredible performance of Roman Carnival Overture. The conductor's National Philharmonic recording of 1976 is tame indeed when compared with this dynamic, imaginative interpretation, which is almost equaled by the Bell Telephone Labs experimental Stokowski/Philadelphia orchestra recording from 1931. Also we have a non-vocal performance of El Amor Brujo, Tchaikovsky's Fifth symphony, and a favorite of the conductor, Symphony No. 2 of Brahms, which he also played at his first (and only) concert with the Concertgebouw Orchestra in 1951, recorded in1929 with the Philadelphia Orchestra, and which was one of the last works he recorded in 1977. Of great interest to Stokowski collectors is inclusion his only recording of Jabonah, a 12-minute ballet by Berlin-born Günter Raphael (1903-1960). Jabonah is a Mongolian word meaning "Setting out," used among Mongolians as a summoning cry in all types of situations. The themes are primnarily Mongolian and the movements are The Robber Princess, The Pilgrim, Caravan and Setting Out (information not provided in the CD notes). Little of this composer's music is heard today, although his Symphony No. 1 was premiered in 1926 with Wilhelm Furtwängler and the Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra. Reasonably good sonics for the time.
In 1984 Philips issued a series of eight CDs of live performances with Kirill Kondrashin and the Concertgebouw Orchestra, all worthy additions to the catalog, but long out of the catalog. The only commercial recording Kondrashin ever made with the Concertgebouw was Scheherazade made in June 1979, just remastered and sounding better than ever (Philips 475 7570). Thus Tahra's 2-CD set of more live performances, licensed from the Dutch Radio, is more than welcome, particularly as it contains performances not included in the Philips series. Kondrashin conducted often in Amsterdam for 12 years; he died March 7, 1981 after a performance of Mahler's First symphony.The Schubert was recorded November 20, 1980, the Berlioz November 14, 1974. Franck's symphony was taped November 27, 1977, the Sibelius March 1, 1979, two years before the conductor's death. CD notes state this is the first release in a series—let us hope this happens and that future releases will not duplicate items previously issued on Philips. Transfers from the original Dutch radio tapes are magnificent; highly recommended!
R.E.B. (September 2006)